On the heels of her family's beloved dog's death, one woman returns to the canines of her past in order to imagine the human she hopes to become in the future in her memoir, What Is a Dog?Chloe Shaw is in a dog house of her own choosing. A married mother with kids, the death of Booker, her children's eldest family pet, has left her reeling and reckoning with her lifelong relationship with dogs. Unable to shake the feeling a year later, she asks her family for some time alone to be with nothing but her thoughts and remaining canines, Safari and Otter--only to find the dogs of her past pawing at her every memory and running, sticks in mouths, back into her life. What follows is a meditation on one woman's life through the dogs she's loved and lost. Since she was a child, Shaw had learned to escape the hardest parts of being human by immersing herself in the lives of her canine companions, an adaptive attachment that carried her to adulthood. Yet, in marriage and motherhood, Shaw finds herself facing her most human struggles yet. Her old ways of "being the dog" in the face of hardship prove destructive, and it's not until she's able to love herself and learn from the dogs of her past and present that can she truly thrive as a person, and show up for the family who needs her to be their person. With artful prose and a philosophical touch, Shaw takes us on an emotional journey anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog will connect with--and discovers dogs do more than just make our lives better--they quietly (and sometimes loudly) pull us boldly toward the person we were always meant to be.
This item is Non-Returnable
- ISBN-13: 9781250210746
- ISBN-10: 1250210747
- Publisher: Flatiron Books
- Publish Date: July 2021
- Dimensions: 8.55 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.65 pounds
- Page Count: 224
What Is a Dog?
Debut author Chloe Shaw traces her own emotional development through the roles dogs have played in her life. There was Easy, whom Shaw’s parents had before they had children. Then there was Agatha 1, the Christmas puppy who, days later, went to the veterinarian and never came home. Her replacement was Agatha 2, whose name hinted at the family’s tendency to plow forward through difficult times. As an only child, Shaw turned to her dogs for entertainment and companionship. She wanted to “be the dog,” to lose herself so deeply in connection with an animal that human problems and obligations fell away.
Shaw was exploring these tendencies in therapy by the time she met Booker, the dog who came along with Matt, the psychoanalyst whom Shaw would marry. Together the couple adopted Safari, who seemed the canine embodiment of Shaw’s anxieties. Booker taught Safari how to be a good dog, and both dogs bonded with the couple’s children.
After Booker’s death, Shaw insisted on adopting Otter. Shaw was the family member who clung to the idea of another dog, so she tried to assume all responsibility for Otter’s care. But raising Otter shows Shaw that she can’t be completely self-sufficient. Otter reminds her that she is human, not canine—and that her humanity is good. “When we open ourselves to the possibility of love,” she writes, “we open ourselves to the possibility of breaking; when we open ourselves to the possibility of breaking, we open ourselves to the possibility of being made whole again.”
What Is a Dog? is a tender memoir that showcases the vulnerable self we often risk revealing only to our pets. The dogs in Shaw’s life show her how to love another being, yes—but that love also leads her deeper into the human experience, flaws, risks and all. Shaw’s sensitive recollection of a lifetime of anxiety and curiosity will invite readers to examine their own insecurities and to find acceptance in the process.